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Making a SWOT more than a laundry list

How many planning meetings have started with a SWOT exercise but gone no further.  You've ended up with an interminable list of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats, but no breakthrough ideas or actions?  There is a simple way to make SWOT exercises a really effective way to develop strategy and look at your business in a new way. It’s called a Strategic SWOT.

Here how I do it

A) Undertake the first step of a traditional SWOT – a full brain dump against each of the SWOT categories – nothing excluded or filtered.. The value of the Strategic SWOT is, however, very much dependant on the quality of your SWOT items.  They must honestly reflect your competitive strengths and weaknesses, and a realistic assessment of external opportunities and threats. Think creatively and challenge the status quo.

B) Get the group (or, if it’s just you, yourself) to decide on the top 4 or 5 in each category...the factors that have the potential to have biggest impact on your business and the market in which you operate.

C) Now comes the fun part ask yourself 4 probing questions:

  1. How can we use these strengths to maximize these opportunities?
  2. How do we use these strengths to overcome these threats?
  3. What do we do to make sure that these weaknesses don’t spoil these opportunities?
  4. What if these weaknesses combine with these threats, what corrective action will we need to take?

This can be challenging, but also very creative.  What at first may seem like unrelated challenges or opportunities when, put together, can reveal breakthrough ideas…or uncover something that was staring you in the face. New opportunities identified, problems put into perspective, nasty threats revealed, real strengths cashed in on and weaknesses addressed. 

D) Now prioritise the strategies and initiatives developed against your overall objectives – which ones should you action first, and what are the steps to execution. One page planning is a great tool to do that.

So next time someone suggests doing a SWOT don’t groan – suggest this process to ensure you come up with an action list rather than a laundry list.

by James Atkins, Vantage Strategy & Marketing Powered by Mindshop This article is linked to James' Google+ profile

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